No warm welcome for Pep Guardiola as Manchester City and Barcelona shape up for Champions League epic
Thursday morning (Hong Kong time) sees a host of heavyweights take the field, with Bayern Munich and Arsenal among them
The highly anticipated Barcelona v Manchester City clash is one of eight Champions League matches scheduled for early Thursday morning (Hong Kong time) and City coach Pep Guardiola is keen to impress on his return to Barcelona.
Gutsy Gunners keen to capitalise against Ludogorets Razgrad
Arsenal look a solid bet to continue their Champions League unbeaten start when they host Bulgarian outfit Ludogorets Razgrad. The Gunners were unfortunate not to win in Paris before form striker Theo Walcott scored a brace to beat Basel. Walcott scored twice again this weekend as a gritty Arsenal dug in for a 10-man 3-2 win over Swansea that saw them climb level with Man City at the top of the Premier League. One note of caution for the hosts is that Ludogorets took the lead in both their games, a 1-1 draw with the Swiss and a 3-1 home defeat by PSG. The Bulgarian champions are also on a seven-game unbeaten run away from home.
Business as usual for Paris Saint-Germain against Basel
As coach of Sevilla last season Unai Emery beat Basel on the way to winning the Europa League. Now his current charges, French champions Paris Saint-Germain, host them in a confident mood thanks to Uruguayan striker Edinson Cavani – enjoying a purple patch of 15 goals in his last 11 games – and Brazilian playmaker Lucas. Both scored in a weekend win. Basel’s Iceland midfielder Birkir Bjarnason scored in his last match in Paris, albeit in a 5-2 defeat at the Stade de France against hosts France in the quarter-finals of the Euros. The Swiss champions warmed up with a 3-0 win over Luzern and can welcome back players whose legs were saved at the weekend.
Dynamo Kiev, Benfica aim to break drought
Both sides go in search of their first win, crucial if they are not to be cut adrift in the group. Dynamo’s Serhiy Sydorchuk is available after a one match ban due to his dismissal in the 2-1 loss to Napoli. They host Benfica on the back of a weekend 1-1 draw at FC Chornomorets Odesa to leave the reigning champions six points adrift in the Ukrainian Premier League. Benfica’s 4-2 loss to Napoli is their only defeat in their last 20 matches in all competitions.
Napoli face Besiktas with last 16 in sight
Napoli will become the first team to qualify for the last 16 if they notch up their third straight win and Dynamo Kiev draw with Benfica. A superb opening 4-2 win over Benfica followed by a 2-1 defeat of Dynamo in Ukraine left coach Maurizio Sarri’s side coasting towards the knockout stages. Arkaduisz Milik, signed as a replacement for striker Gonzalo Higuain, has scored three goals in the competition for Napoli but is out for months with a knee injury. The Serie A side lost to Roma on the weekend, leaving them seven points off the league leaders Juventus. Besiktas, back in the competition for the first time since 2009-2010, were buoyed by a 1-0 win at Kayserispor to maintain their best domestic start in five seasons. Besiktas midfielder Gokhan Inler plans not to celebrate if he scores against his former club.
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Barcelona, Manchester City lock horns in game of the season
Pep Guardiola’s return to Barcelona, the club where he won the Champions League as both player and coach (twice) makes this game the tie of the season so far. Barcelona have won 12 straight Champions League games at home and Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar are all primed to play. Crucially for City, playmaker Kevin de Bruyne and Sergio Aguero will be at full fitness too after two draws and a defeat in the last three games. Captain Vincent Kompany also looks set for a start. Gerard Pique, in the news this week for his controversial role in Spain’s outfit and his ambitions to be Barcelona president, has also scored three goals in the last three games. Guardiola’s men drew with Everton at the weekend.
Celtic to carry on against Borussia Moenchengladbach
Celtic’s raucous fans carried the Hoops to a wild 3-3 draw with Pep Guardiola’s Man City last time out and will be a bankable asset against Germany’s Borussia Moenchengladbach. They’ll need to be as Celtic are traditionally beaten by German opponents. André Schubert’s charges come to Celtic Park in desperate need of a win after defeats against City and Barcelona and in poor spirits after missing two penalties in a 0-0 draw with Hamburg on the weekend. The man to keep an eye on is Celtic striker Moussa Dembele, who has 15 goals in his last 17 games. Brendan Rodgers knows that if the 1967 Champions are to escape from this group with the respect of their own fans they need to win the game and will be priming the striker to spearhead his masterplan.
Can Rostov take the fight to Atletico Madrid?
Russia’s Rostov are seeking to build on their plucky home Champions League debut 2-2 draw against PSV after an opening 5-0 thumping by Bayern Munich. Rostov will be hoping for no repeat of the banana throwing incident that marred the PSV stalemate. They were beaten by Spartak Moscow in the domestic league on Saturday with red cards dished out to two of their players. The Russians are up against it after last season’s finalists Atletico sparkled in a 1-0 defeat of Bayern Munich. It lifted Diego Simeone’s impressive side into the group lead. A 7-1 humbling of Granada in La Liga means they travel to Russia in confident mood.
Bayern Munich in desperate need of a win against PSV Eindhoven
Bayern host PSV with Carlo Ancelotti slamming their “bad attitude” in Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Eintracht Frankfurt and club chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge describing the performance as “unacceptable”. They need a win to steady the ship after a last time out loss to Atletico Madrid left them in second, three points off the Spanish pacesetters. Franck Ribery misses the match with a leg injury. A win will be Bayern’s first in their last four outings.